Changes to the food safety legislation are expected to hit early childhood education (ECE) services hard and the sector is calling for an exemption from the new regulations.
Early childhood education association, Te Rito Maioha Early Childhood New Zealand (ECNZ) has spoken out against the "exorbitant" costs of complying with the new legislation, as ECE services will need to be independently verified at least every three years. ECNZ chief executive Kathy Wolfe said that during the consultation period last year centres were led to believe they could expect to pay around $300 for an inspection.
"We’ve recently heard anecdotally about an ECE service in Nelson that was quoted $4,000 for an inspection, which quite frankly is outrageous. Other quotes we’ve heard were around the $1,000 mark."
The ECE sector is concerned about increasing costs and an inconsistent approach.
Peter Reynolds from the Early Childhood Council says home-based ECE services are exempt from the new regulations while an ECE centre must face huge compliance costs.
The sector feels that while food safety is of course critical, the compliance costs were unnecessary for a sector that is already regulated. It does not believe the same commercial kitchen rules should be applied to ECE services where compliance is already high.
ECE wellbeing and design specialist Mike Bedford supports the ECE sector's stance.
"I absolutely agree that children's health needs should be respected, but it's so important to ensure that regulatory measures fit the context and actual risks. Inspections required by MPI will serve only to generate an expensive compliance market, but I doubt they will prevent a single infection."
‘The tragedy in all this is that at the end of the day, unrealistic and unnecessary compliance costs and additional work required may become too hard to meet for ECE services," says Wolfe. "This means that services will either need to raise fees which will impact on a family’s ability to have their child attend ECE, or worse still, may stop serving food altogether and revert to lunch boxes. Members advise us that for our most vulnerable children the meal they get at the ECE service is often the best meal of the day. The result will likely be hungry children."